Louisiana crawfish season starts slow, but demand still high
CROWLEY, La. (AP) — Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production but cold weather, a shortage of workers to process them and other factors have contributed to a slow start to the 2019 season for the freshwater crustacean.
Despite expensive prices for crawfish, the demand is high in the first full week of Lent in heavily Catholic South Louisiana, The Acadiana Advocate reported.
A cold snap during Mardi Gras last week could deliver another hit to the season this week and the Lenten period that started the day after the Carnival celebrations concluded means even more demand as observing Christians seek seafood while abstaining from other meat. Crawfish prices are as high as $9 a pound in some restaurants.
Federal limits on H-2B visas for temporary employees have also left many crawfish processors uncertain if they'll have enough people to staff plants as the industry, like many others in the U.S., often relies on foreign guest workers.
The state's annual yield of crawfish is more than 100 million pounds (45 million kilograms), according to Louisiana State University's Agricultural Center. Most are harvested between December and June, but March, April and May are peak months.
According to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board, more than 7,000 people depend on the industry and the total economic contribution to the state's economy can exceed $300 million annually.
Frank Randol, owner of Randol's restaurant and its seafood processing business, said he was lucky this year to get 25 H-2B visas for the first time since 2014. He said more than 100,000 people applied for them, crashing the Labor Department's system Jan. 1.
"Every year it's grown and there's more demand for a set amount of visas," he said.
Still, business is doing well on Randol's restaurant side as the demand for the good crawfish they've been able to get on tables has their happy hour filling the place and covering costs for a whole shift.
Michael Fruge with Cajun Crawfish and Fruge Aquafarms in Branch says the slow start isn't uncommon because there's a cycle to farming the Louisiana delicacy. Fruge hopes better numbers on thermometers this month equal better numbers for the shortage. "If it warms up, the crawfish should start reproducing and growing faster," he said.
Scott Broussard owns Acadia Crawfish Co. in Crowley. He believes frequent rainfall in August and September caused crawfish to come out of the ground early and begin laying eggs before farmers were ready to flood their fields.
"We're optimistic that production will pick up, but Mother Nature has not been very friendly to us this year," Broussard said.
This story has been corrected to show that Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production, not the world, as reported in some earlier versions.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com